Prague Study Abroad Guide

Prague is a magical place full of delicious soup, dirt cheap beer and remnants of Soviet Communism. What more could you ask for? Although it’s genuinely one of my favorite cities in the world, it can be confusing and a little intimidating at first. Check out this guide for some helpful tips…

Read the whole article on NYULocal: Unofficial Guide To Study Abroad: Prague

Grand Street

New Yorkers are used to the chaos of Canal Street and tourists expect it as a characteristic of Chinatown. But wander down Grand Street towards the edge of Little Italy and the crowds dissipate. Grocery shoppers browse the market stands and school kids enjoy afternoon sweets from street vendors. This photo slideshow captures the neighborhood scene of this calmer, quieter side of Chinatown.

Photo project on Grand Street with Vimeo.

 

NYULocal: Community Gardens

Through September and October, we can expect a few more warm days before November comes and ruins it all. To make the most of your remaining outside time, take a break from Washington Square Park and venture to some of the community gardens scattered throughout the nearby Lower East Side. Whether you want a quiet hideout to read by yourself or a new outdoor event space to check out with friends, this guide will help you find the perfect spot…

Read the rest on NYULocal: 6 Community Gardens To Explore Near NYU

NYULocal: New Grad Student Welcomed After 20 Years In Prison

One of NYU’s newest graduate students has the type of impressive track record that is annoyingly commonplace here. She not only has an undergraduate degree from Ball State University, but is also a certified paralegal and published scholar. She wrote a play that will debut this winter and worked on a research team that won best project of the year from the Indiana Historical Society.

But unlike most NYU students, Michelle Jones did all of her work while serving time in prison….

Read the full article on NYULocal: NYU Welcomes Grad Student After 20 Years In Prison

Thoughts From the Crowd at San Gennaro

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From September 14 to 24, vendors are packed into the streets of Little Italy for the annual Feast of San Gennaro. The festival has been a city tradition for the past 91 years. But something is a little different this year.

“It’s way too New York now,” said Rebecca, a young mom from Queens who has been coming to the fair for about 20 years. “Like, ‘Italian’ fried chicken? Come on.” She usually takes her daughter and nieces for the rides and games, but her favorite part is always the Italian food, which there seems to be less of this year.

“I thought we were gonna come here and mangia!” said her older sister, Christina. “Oh well.”

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Although there are still rows of sausage-and-pepper stands, piles of lasagna and meatballs on paper plates, and glass pastry cases filled with cannoli, there have definitely been some additions. The Franki Valli music playing in front of the famous Ferrara bakery is drowned out by Top 40 hits, soca music, summery reggaeton and even throwback Nicki Minaj freestyles from her first mixtapes. If you don’t want Italian food, other vendors sell “Italian” hot dogs, macaroons, rice and beans (with or without marinara) and “mozzarepas.”

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But the festival is still about heritage, tradition and fun, explained Frank Alleva with a mouth full of sausage. He grew up on Grand Street and went to the San Gennaro fair every year as a kid. Now, 61 years later, he runs the Alleva Dairy table. Although he still loves the atmosphere, he misses the old Italy.

“The neighborhood has been gentrified, so its not just all the old-timers here anymore,” he said.

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While people lined up for cannoli, gelato, and Italian ices, one dessert stop was suspiciously empty —the panettone, otherwise known as fruit cake. The elderly vendor watched the crowd from his chair. I asked how long he had been coming here.

“Long enough,” he said with a tired scowl.

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Travel

Homemade Pasta

As an amateur cook aspiring to follow in the path of mother’s effortlessly perfect dinners, I had always been fascinated by the idea of making pasta by hand. But when my first forays into the kitchen revealed that I couldn’t even get boxed brownies right, making homemade pasta for my Italian family seemed like an impossible feat…

Read the full article on Saveur.com: The Best Tools For Making Perfect Fresh Pasta At Home

Featured photo by Matt Taylor-Gross, Saveur.

Short Take: Racism in Prague

Dave was the first black man I met in Prague. He works at an underground reggae bar with cheap, sweet beer and walls covered in graffiti about Jah and Emperor Selassie. During his shifts there, Dave sells plastic cupfuls of weed to grungy locals and giggling international students. He gently sways to the island music while he talks, explaining that he came to Prague to find better job opportunities. He didn’t want to say what he did for work at home in Nigeria, although he ensured me he was better off here…

Read the full article on Pritomnost.cz: Unwelcome at Home

 

“Luka Lu Made in YU”

Шалим се, лепа. Cyrillic was scribbled on the inside of the styrofoam to-go box from the best dinner we’d had in months. “Just kidding, beautiful,” it said. “I knew he was a Serb, I knew it! I saw it in his eyes,” Jovana exclaimed with with an eye roll and a laugh. The young waiter had pretended to be confused when she spoke Serbian to him and insisted he was from Prague. The flirty joke reminded her of home. We declared the restaurant our new place and promised to go back to find out what town the Serbian waiter was from.  

Luka Lu is small bright restaurant in Malá Strana, an escape to a place that no longer exists. The Serbian and Bosnian waiters serve dishes from Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia. But Luka Lu is proudly labeled only as Yugoslavian in celebration of the country that broke up almost 30 years ago.

Unlike the collective silence surrounding the Czech Republic’s Velvet Revolution and break from Russian communism, the memory of Yugoslavia is kept with pride and nostalgia. Czechs fight to forget a time in history when farmers were declared enemies of the state and the decades of food shortages and endless bread lines. Curious children who ask parents and grandparents about life under communism are often ignored. But in Luka Lu, fond memories of  a prospering Yugoslavia are kept through an abundance of traditional recipes. While the Czechs ate to work, relying on thick layers of butter and oily cured meats to stay full and warm, the Yugoslavians ate to relax and enjoy.

The patterned walls and colorfully mismatched table settings immediately distinguish Luka Lu from rustic but often bland Czech taverns. The menu is also a welcome break from the local beer, meat and potatoes standard. First, rakija is ordered before anything else. The homemade liquer is simultaneously fruity and strong, and the small glass is slowly enjoyed throughout the meal. For Serbians, it is not only an apertif, but a memory from childhood when it was used to clean scrapes and soothe sore throats. Then, thick, fluffy bread is served with spicy ayvar and creamy kajmak. The shopska salad is cool and crunchy, generously topped with shredded sirene cheese and the barbecued meats are warmly seasoned with fragrant spices. Each dish is a small piece of home, and the vibrant variety celebrates each country from Yugoslavia.  The bloody stains of the Balkan wars are temporarily overlooked – it’s what Yugoslavia used to be that counts in Luka Lu.

“Yugoslavia was the best country in the world,” a waiter named Bane said. “It’s never going to happen again.”

Bane is from a small town in Serbia, one stop away from Belgrade on the bus. He left 23 years ago and only returns for visits. For him, the Czech Republic is a better place to work, but it lacks the friendliness and openness that the ex-Yugoslavian countries have. One of the most important parts of Yugoslavian culture is teasing and making fun of each other, he said. But in the Czech Republic, these jokes are never understood.

“Everyone takes everything personally,” Bane said with a shrug. “Sometimes I think am crazy here, but when I go home I know I am OK.”

In Luka Lu, Bane and his coworkers can continue their tradition of playful hospitality. Talkative guests are offered extra glasses of rakija and short notes or smiley faces are written on to-go boxes. A Serbian girl celebrating her 21st birthday away from home was given a heaping piece of kremšnita while an old-time radio version of “Happy Birthday” played over the restaurant speakers. On the way out, sometimes the bartender will pour one last glass of bitter, herb-scented pelinkovac to wipe the taste buds clean.

Even after the kitchen is closed, no one is turned away or rushed. Lingering guests can enjoy their last sips of Macedonian house wine while the traditional Balkan music gets louder. The waiters and waitresses join the restaurant owner for a playful dance and forget about cleaning for a few minutes.

Eager to hear more about Serbia and Yugoslavia, I asked Bane question after question. He brought me another basket of bread, which I immediately slathered with the last remnants of ayvar. While my mouth was full of warm bread crust, I tried to ask a provocative question about tension and war after the break-up of Yugoslavia. Bane stopped my incoherent mumbling with a smile. “Take your food, and then we can talk about it,” he said.

Photo by Carmen J. Russo

Freelance journalist based in New York City